It is coming- the ringing of the tills and the twinkling of the plastic stars. The singing of the Santa Claus songs and the pressure to eat and drink till we burst.

At some point over the last 100 years- somewhere between Dickens and and ‘A Muppet’s Christmas Tale’ (fine film though it may be)- we were occupied by forces of the Empire. It happened whilst we were looking the other way- distracted by another shiny gadget.

Don’t get me wrong- I have nothing against secular festivals- in fact I think there should be more of them. Anything that brings us closer together and celebrates our humanity is good as far as I am concerned, and you could argue that our Christmas took the slot in the year previously occupied by pagan feasting.

I do however feel a slight tinge of irritation at the fact that Christ gets hardly a mention in the representation of Christmas in popular culture. The icons that survive are ones that seem to me to fit in with the Disneyfication of it all- the tree, snow, twinkling lights, Santa Claus and of course, the giving of gifts. Lots of gifts. There is some mention from time to time of the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ uttered in films by some bloke in a red suit and a stick on beard. As far as I am able to understand this usually involves believing in Santa, being nice to your family and consuming lots of Christmas product.

And there is the rub- the consuming of product.

The incredible pressure exerted by the massive Capitalist machine to suck us all into a vortex of buying, eating, drinking. The system depends on it. Without strong Christmas sales then the whole edifice (already rather rickety) will come tumbling down. So do your bit- credit cards out boys and girls, lets take one to preserve our way of life.

How we Christians continue to live with the contradiction of celebrating the birth of a man whose whole life was a warning against storing up pointless possessions on earth is always a matter of amazement and guilt for me. Jesus- the man of poverty who told his followers that they did not need two shirts for their backs.

More importantly, a man who spoke more about one issue that almost any other- our individual relationship to money. The camel and the eye of the needle, the widows mite, the alabaster jar, the sermon on the mount, rendering unto Caesar etc.

Then there is the matter of exploiting the poor- doing unto the least of these. All those factories in far off places paying peanuts. All those brand names stitched on by people whose whole yearly salary amounts to less than one shoe worn by a pampered western foot. The trade circle controlled by those who have at the expense of those who have not.

All celebrated at the feast of Consumermas.

The older I get, the less willing I am to attend this particular feast. Call me rude, but I have another one to go to- a simpler one. Less shiny, costing far less money, connected with something far more important.

You are invited too.

I mention this friends, as once again, we will be thinking about the shopping. We will be wondering what we can afford, who we feel an obligation of love, friendship or duty towards. It will feel like a power over us beyond our control.

But it is not.

Stop consuming. Share life, share love, share time. Make stuff, gather with friends and do the ‘secret santa’ thing. Give stuff away that you no longer need. Buy gifts only from charity shops ( a great idea Samir!)

Start your own Advent Conspiracy.

Find silence in the clamour of another crap Christmas number one endlessly replayed. Celebrate mystery and light in the middle of darkness.

You have to start somewhere- Consumermas is coming, and will not let you go easily, or without emptying your wallet.

The back-to-work-after-Christmas Hakka…

The house is now empty after a wonderful time spent with friends over New Year. We always take a group photo, which always seems to be a record of the development of our kids, and the increasing decrepitude of we adults-

The other thing this photo reminds me of is the end of another Christmas/New Year break. A new year is upon us, and work begins again.

This year may (or may not) bring changes, but for now, the grind will grind on.

Andy and I were laughing about the feeling of needing to psych up for work. Almost like the New Zealand rugby team performing the Hakka-

So, by way of my own little hakka, I wrote some words. Imagine them being performed by men like those above.



Scowl me out that stress-face

This holiday must fracture

Stoke the furnace, sound that bell

This man must manufacture



Scrape the windscreen, warm the car

Before we once again commute

What was that bloody password?

I must again reboot



A million unread  e-mails

Have scleroted up my in box

The undrunk mug of coffee

Is waiting for a detox



There are those who are waiting

To mire me up in memos

Their words have little meaning

And even less good purpose



I should have been a cave man

His was a better planet

The things we folk must do

To slay this seasons mammoth



Smash some windows, kick some cats

Shout at the television

Tomorrow we must rise again

To earn some long division

Things to do on boxing day…

Make a water wheel of course…

This is one of the pieces for our Aoradh New Year Meditation Walk in Pucks Glen- details here. The challenge has been to make something durable enough to last the week turning in cold water (which I am not sure I have managed) and also to be light enough to be moved by a small waterfall. I made the bearings out of some skateboard wheels, which I am really pleased with. Time will tell if it lasts the course…

We have had a lovely Christmas- I hope you have too.

It started with an Aoradh get together to share our ‘secret santa’ presents…

It was lovely.

Then we went to midnight Mass @ Andrew’s Church up on the hill- lots of incense, familiar liturgy and lovely music.

Christmas day was slow and lazy and full of both laughter, and the good kind of tears- the BBC nativity reduced me to a jelly of tears. It’s earthy realism, allied to some genuine theological questioning was great- and the combination of great acting and a brilliant script was one of the most moving things I have seen for ages.

Then we opened presents. Despite all the discussion about trying not to do the present thing this year, I had some lovely things. Home made food parcels, books, clothes.

And a lovely calendar made by Michaela using the words of some of our favourite songs.

I am a man blessed. May the year ahead give me many opportunities to bless others…



The Fragile Tent Christmas card, 2011…

Dear friends- may you be gifted with joy and peace.

By way of a Christmas card, I offer a picture, and a poem. The picture is by Janet McKenzie, whose art  inspired this lovely book.

Mary. Mother of God.

Where you born already divine;

A scrap of human flesh with a

God only skin deep?


Or did the shape of Messiah-

The mewling lion of Judah-

Need nurture?


At the breast of this mother

Scarcely beyond child herself

You took in milk


What sort of woman

Might school the star maker?

Whose sharp words


Could cut through a

Heavenly tantrum like a

Shaft of light through shadow?


Did she teach the turning of

The other cheek against some teenage



Or perhaps this was always the point-

Power and might made tender flesh

The highest now most lowly


The filling up of hungry mouth

The arms that hold

The pride at a first step


The learning and the loving

The pulse of blood in fragile vein

The summer cough


From this material

A man was made

Who became Messiah

Plastic Jesus…

Another nativity scene

Kids in tea towels and cardboard donkey ears

A tinselled angel picking her nose

And a manger knocked together by Joseph’s dad

From bits of broken shed


Jesus may be plastic

But Mary holds him tight


Cameras flash back from stars

Wrapped in baking foil

And I smile

Another proud father


It is all so ordinary-

The small school chairs

The smell of stale milk and disinfectant

The creak and rattle of the old piano

As the children sing again

To welcome the Christ child

And the end of term

Christmas for the spiritually poor…

Tonight our housegroup met to exchange ‘secret Santa’ gifts, to sing carols and to celebrate the coming King.

But our celebrations were muted by several situations affecting our little group. One of our members is over at the hospital in Greenock sitting with her husband who is not expected to live through the night.

Another is in hospital recovering from an operation.

One of us has been really ill and has not been able to eat for several days.

Then half way through our meeting, we had a phone call to say that Helen’s father, who lives in the North of Scotland, was in some kind of crisis and no-one could contact him. Fortunately it all turned out to be a misunderstanding, but it brought home again how fragile we humans are.

Yet how beautiful.

Michaela read these words by Archbishop Oscar Romero

No-one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being spiritually poor.

The self sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others- those who have no need even of God- for them there will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone.

That someone is God.



Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

Life owes us nothing.

But we owe the life in us everything.

And we pay that debt in love.